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Liam Neeson returns to home town of Ballymena, Northern Ireland


Liam Neeson returned to the stage where it all began, as he was granted the freedom of Ballymena.

The Hollywood star of blockbusters including Schindler's List and Michael Collins started out in his home town performing pantomimes with the Slemish Players. He returned to receive the borough's highest honour, as Mayor PJ McAvoy said to the former Star Wars actor: "May the force be with you."

Ballymena Borough Council in Co Antrim, Northern Ireland, rolled out the red carpet as Neeson said he was still "99.9 per cent Ballymena" in his dedication to hard work. He said Ballymena had changed since he left for New York and paid tribute to the council for honouring him. "If it did not change I don't think I would be sitting here," he said.

The Hollywood star waded through a scrum of well-wishers as he arrived at the reception.

"It is great to be back," he said.

This is the second time Neeson has been offered the freedom of the borough after refusing the Co Antrim council's recognition in 2000 amid controversy over his alleged derogatory remarks.

He was quoted as saying in an American magazine that he felt "second class" as a Catholic growing up in the mainly Protestant town and felt he had to stay indoors during the loyalist July 12 commemoration of the Battle of the Boyne.

Only three people have been awarded the freedom of Ballymena: Ian Paisley, Dr Syd Millar and Sandy Spence.

Neeson was married to actress Natasha Richardson, who died in 2009 after suffering a serious head injury while skiing in Canada. He lives in New York and was awarded the OBE in 2000.

Before taking to the stage he was a boxer and a forklift truck driver.